December 2001
Dear Family and Friends,

What a year of mixed fortunes we have all had and how quickly 2001 has passed. The attacks on 11th September on New York and Washington put everything into raw perspective - good must prevail. The message of peace and love at Christmas is needed more than ever and perhaps we should show less pride and obsession with material things. The ancient Mayans predicted their own demise and that of previous and following cultures. They have stated that the world as we know it will come to an end on 22/12/2012 due to Sun, star and magnetic field changes. - Perhaps they were right - we shall see.

Our year began by buying a couple of business class round-the-world tickets for a 3-month glorious trip to New Zealand and Australia. We set off on 1st April for New Zealand, via Vancouver and Hawaii. We stayed several days in the elegant northern suburb of Vancouver right underneath the ski-slopes and explored much of the local countryside including Vancouver Island and the loop to Whistler ski resort to the North. An exploration of the active volcano on Hawaii was fascinating. Our hotel on Hawaii was at Hilo, on the (wet) East Side, picking bananas and papayas from the garden for breakfast. We had over 6 inches of rain on “our” side of the Island whilst the West side, where Kona coffee comes from remained very dry. Although Hawaii is by far the largest of the Hawaii Islands it’s only a half-day drive around the coast from East to West.

The flight to New Zealand via Sydney took us over the equator and International Date Line simultaneously, and we lost Good Friday into the bargain! NZ’s south Island is delightfully unspoilt and uncrowded, there are only 300,000 people on the whole of the South Island. The Canterbury plains to the NorthEast were covered with sheep as expected, but burnt brown with an extended drought, which was not. We flew into Christchurch (South Island’s largest city, very English in character) but hurried on to Kaikura where we had made a wedding anniversary date to go whale watching. We struck lucky and were treated to five sightings of the magnificent sperm whales. In two weeks we managed to tour the whole Island, visiting mountains, national parks, Kiwi reserves ffiords and glaciers. John’s highlight of the whole trip was a guided trek up the Franz Joseph glacier, followed next day by a helicopter trip over the glacier, landing high on the nearby Fox glacier. The views down on to the folds of blue-green ice were superb and unforgettable.

A boat trip down Milford Sound ffiord to the sea on a somewhat cloudy and mist day was awesome and mysterious. They have an underwater reef laboratory in the sound, which is as magnificent as the Great Barrier Reef in all aspects except size. We worked our way East to Dunedin to watch the Fairy penguins struggling ashore and up the rocks to their colony at night which they do, regular as clockwork, 365 days a year. When we reached the North of South Island we took the ferry across to Wellington on the North Island. North Island in general is much busier than the South and Wellington was vibrantly alive with young folk enjoying an excellent lifestyle. We were heading for Auckland to the North of North Island to meet Bron’s second cousin who we had only recently made contact with, and so we spent the best part of another week heading North via Taupo, and Rotarua with it’s gas and geysers. We enjoyed an excellent Maori Hangi feast and soaked up some of their culture here. Food cooked by hot stones under leaves in an underground oven is very good, as was all the food “down under”. In fact high-class cuisine, excellent quality and presentation at very reasonable cost is one of the best-kept secrets of NZ and OZ. To see Auckland, the “city of sails” in the company of Bron’s new “rellies” was the icing on the cake.

We have more relations in Sydney and spent 3 weeks there with Bron’s cousin, and also with John’s niece Claire who recently moved to Australia to work. She has a waterside apartment overlooking Sydney the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. We went to a brilliant concert at the former and climbed the latter! (Pretty good for two old timers, one with a fear of heights and the other with rheumatic ankles). Sydney is a charming young person’s bustling city, and of course we checked out the sights at Bondi Beach! We toured the Southeast, via Melbourne and along the famous Great Ocean Road to Adelaide and then hopped on an aeroplane to Queensland for the Great Barrier Reef, tropical rainforest and the tableland. This part of the trip was Bron’s particular highlight when all her Geography and Biology interests of a lifetime came to life. We even went exploring for the rare Cassowary birds and walked in conservation rainforests unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs.

Reluctantly we left this enchanted area, but only to Ayers Rock where we toured the Red Centre. Uluru is awesome and I can see why it has a significant religious meaning to the aborigines. I kept turning to check that it was still there - weird! We travelled by coach to Alice Springs on a meandering dirt road via an isolated ranch on the bend of the ancient Finke River, unchanged in its course since the world began. We visited the Flying Doctor Service, the “School of the Air”, and the old telegraph office in Alice - and suffered a 4” deluge of thunderstorm in a supposed desert. They’ve had unseasonable weather for a few years now and are thinking of re-naming the red centre the “green centre”.

The next stop on our itinerary was tropical Darwin, often flattened by hurricanes. We took in a two-day coach trip to nearby Kakadu National Park, which claims to be the only park in the World to contain a major river from source to the ocean. Our last major stopover in Australia was on the West Coast at Perth. On the way we were treated to a magnificent aerial view of Uluru bathed in the morning sunshine and we also marvelled at the barren salt interior East of Perth. -- A foretaste of what will happen when the world ends due to a shortage of water. Perth is a lovely but isolated city with old Freemantle as its only neighbour for miles. We made one final car excursion to the South West corner of Australia, to Albany and a forest of giant Tingle trees where the enterprising Aussies had erected a boardwalk 40 metres up amongst the forest canopy - awesome!

Our reluctant return to Britain was via Singapore where we had a busy stopover full of cultural visits with local guides and sampling the Raffles Hotel’s famous “Singapore Sling” cocktails and their high tea in the Tiffin room. Singapore is a fascinating and busy place, night and day, a shopper’s paradise - and rounded our trip off nicely. We could have gone round again, being so used to living out of suitcases, but it’s also nice to be unpacked and in our own surroundings again.

In July we were delighted to learn that our son Martin became engaged to Christine, a very nice local girl he has known for a couple of years. Christine, Martin and John all share a common interest of the brass band; even Bron’s been roped on to the band committee! Daughter Katherine has been in hospital with a blood clot on her lung and associated racing heartbeat. Both conditions have responded to treatment and we keep our fingers crossed for her. She remains upbeat and is doing more voluntary work with the “support dogs” charity. “Norman”, her own support dog, is her constant companion and “best buddy”.

Recently we’ve had a conservatory built on the back of the house, complete with aircon and heating for year-round use. John has already decided that he’ll use it as a music room because the acoustics are excellent - just like singing in the bath! His trombone playing is still a major hobby and he’s working towards his grade 5 exam and looking forward to joining the (amateur) Worcester Jazz Orchestra to play big-band music. Bron has joined a choir and vocational class in botanical drawing this autumn. As if having a conservatory built was not chaotic enough we’ve had workmen around for most of the autumn and well into winter. Our two chalet style back bedrooms have been given a thorough going over to increase their width and to provide fitted cupboards so that we can keep our stuff more “ship-shape”. During this time our central heating system has broken down and we’re in the middle of that major overhaul, having been without heating for several weeks, and even without hot water for some of that time! Not only that but we had houseguests from USA who came over urgently to attend a funeral in Malvern - it never rains but it pours!

There’s only a couple more days before we get our home back to ourselves (no workmen!) then immediately plunge into decorating and having new carpets upstairs (the fun part), hopefully before Christmas, but maybe not at this rate. We’ve never been good letter writers but really look forward to this annual exchange of newsletters and cards at Christmas. It is lovely to be on the receiving end of your news, so we’ll close our news this year with the usual Season’s greetings, love and best wishes for 2002 from John and Bron - may it be considerably less shocking than this one.

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